Why Is the Future of the Tennessee Volunteers Football Program So Bright?

Recruiting, culture and winning. All have to combine in a way that it makes players not only want to come to your school, but stay. And it appears Josh Heupel and the Tennessee Volunteers are figured this out in a good way. In this article, I dive into the main reasons the future is bright on rocky top for the Tennessee Volunteers Football Team
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel during the Citrus Bowl NCAA College football game on Monday,
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel during the Citrus Bowl NCAA College football game on Monday, / Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY
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Are the Tennessee Volunteers on their way to being a team seen regularly at the top of the SEC? That could very well be the case as despite going from 11-2 in 2022 to 8-4 in 2023 for the regular season, head coach Josh Heupel may just have the Vols headed in the best direction they have seen in a long time in Knoxville.

Here are Three Reasons to Watch for the Volunteers to be a Mainstay at the Top of the SEC Starting in 2024.

2025 Recruiting Class

2025 could be the Vols best recruiting class yet with already one five star verbally committed with in-state quarterback product, George Macintyre. Heupel has also pulled in two four star recruits in Ethan Utley and Jack VanDorselaer who are both ranked 90 overall by on3.

This is arguably the most progress the Vols have made this early in the recruiting cycle for any season under Heupel dating back to his hire before the conclusion of the 2022 high school recruiting cycle.

Macintyre has been hard on the trail trying to recruit fellow highly rated prospects to Knoxville as part of the 2025 class. If your top prospect is bought in so much to this point even with only a verbal commitment, that is a good sign for those on Rocky Top.

Lack of Transfers

Relative to other teams, the Vols seem to be developing a pattern of very few players entering the transfer portal, whether they are a started or not. This speaks to the culture that Heupel is developing in Knoxville and counters programs like Colorado with Deion Sanders who has had 14 players enter the portal so far this spring.

The only player worth noting that has entered the portal for the Vols this spring is linebacker Elijah Herring . And even with Herring, is it justifiable.

The Vols 2023 leading tackler with 79 is slated to be the backup oddly enough in 2024 with linebacker Keenan Pili set to return from injury and take his spot back in 2024. So it is understandable why someone like Herring with the amount of production he had would want to transfer.

Other than that, the Vols are largely intact

Quarterback Pipeline

When Heupel was a former division one quarterback himself and an offensive mind, one would assume that quarterback would be a position of highlight, but that is not the question at hand. The question at hand is whether or not Heupel would be able to consistently pull the level of quarterback talent needed to succeed in the SEC. And so far, he appears to be.

Heupel’s first high school quarterback recruit of note is redshirt freshman and presumed 2024 starting quarterback for the Vols, Nico Iamaleava. Iamaleava spent 2023 backing up quarterback Joe Milton and gained invaluable experience, so should be poised to take the throne in Knoxville.

Iamaleava was Heupel’s first coveted recruit in general, let along quarterback. He was the number six prospect nationally and third quarterback overall according to On3.

Following Iamaleava to Knoxville as part of the 2024 recruiting class was four-star prospect, Jake Merklinger. Although not rated as highly as Iamaleava from the year before, Merklinger is no slouch, ranking as the 200th prospect nationally and 12th quarterback overall by On3.

Verbally committed to Knoxville for the class of 2025 is in-state prospect from Brentwood Academy in Nashville, George Macintyre. Macintyre held offers from nearly every SEC school and chose the Vols at the end as of right now. The commitment seems pretty solid however as mentioned earlier in the article with Macintyre trying to recruit other prospects via social media to join him on rocky top in 2025.

Like Iamaleava two recruitment cycles before him, Macintyre also ranks as the third highest quarterback prospect in his class according to On3.

Recruiting at this level for the Vols at the quarterback position year over year could spell trouble for the entire SEC.